24th July 1851. Daylight Robbery!

In his demand for money, Charles II in 1662, created the Hearth Tax which lasted twenty seven years. It was at a rate of two shillings per annum on houses of an annual rent of 20 shillings or above, on the more expensive residences.

It resulted in the bricking up of hearths, of which some mansions had 20 or more.

People might have been excused for heaving a sigh of relief when the Hearth Tax ended, but it was short-lived as the 1696 Window Tax followed.(1)

This Tax in England and Wales, was an Act of ‘Making Good the Deficiency of the Clipped Money’ 1696.(2) 

Over the centuries tax avoidance has been keenly followed and no better seen than in the Window Tax which was abolished today in 1851, after a public outcry. It was substituted by a tax on uninhabited houses.


The exacting powers considered the tax to be unobtrusive, easy to collect and those in larger houses would pay more.

The Window Tax was a flat rate of 2 shillings per household, with a variable rate above 10 windows.

Between 10 to 20 it was 4 shillings and above that 8 shillings.

The number which incurred tax was changed in 1766 to seven windows and eight in 1825. The flat rate was changed to a variable rate depending on property value in 1778.


At the end of the First American Revolutionary War, with William Pitt in office in December 1783, those windows not bricked-up (‘Pitt’s Pictures’), were subject to a graduated rise.

Those with less than seven windows had the tax withdrawn in 1792 and exemptions included those poor people not paying Church and Poor rate.

The Tax in Scotland came in 1748, but there was a request in 1765 for exclusion from the Act from Ministers of the Church of Scotland, but were rebutted by Lords Commissioners of his Majesty’s Treasury.(3)

One result of the Window Tax was the building of new houses with fewer windows, some with one thickness of bricks in anticipation of the tax’s removal.

(1) The Window tax of William of Orange was abolished in time for the Great Exhibition 1851.

(2) In 1696 Britain had a currency based on silver and gold (bi-metallic) so when the intrinsic value of the metal was higher than its nominal value the coinage was clipped and sold.

(3) in the name of Cha[rles] Lowndes Treasury Chambers, 7th December 1765.


The term ‘Daylight Robbery’ was used in Harold Hobhouse’s ‘Hobson’s Choice’ of 1916, though there is doubt about whether it referred to the Window Tax, which was indeed considered a tax on ‘light and air’.

Ref: wikipedia.org.uk/window_tax.

Ref: telegraph.co.uk/oddest-taxes-in-britain.Image Ref.

Ref: projectbook.co.uk/article.

Ref: Encyclopedia Brittanica 1911 vol. 28, p.713/article re Hearth Tax.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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